King County Executive Dow Constantine spoke to opponents, saying he was against shipping up to 18 trainloads of coal through Seattle, which he called the county's "jewel." Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen spoke to supporters, saying the coal shipments can be done in an environmentally sound manner.
The prospect of long coal trains rolling through Seattle's downtown waterfront is not welcomed by Mayor Mike McGinn. He announced Wednesday the city would commission a study on the local traffic and safety impacts of an estimated 18 coal trains a day.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington State Department of Ecology and the Whatcom County Council scheduled the hearings to identify issues to be studied. The public comment period remains open through Jan. 21, and then an environmental impact statement will be drafted.
Critics want a broad study of economic and environmental impacts well beyond Cherry Point.
"Expanding the scope of environmental review would have a devastating impact," Brandon Housekeeper of the Association of Washington Business told the pre-hearing gathering of coal port supporters.
With the threat of that kind of review, he said, the state might as well post signs at the border that read: "Don't do business here. Washington is not open for business."
Other coal export ports are under consideration at Longview and in Oregon at Coos Bay, Port of Morrow and St. Helens. A proposal at Grays Harbor, Wash., has been shelved.
"Have you experienced what coal dust can do to property? I have," Vancouver resident Toni Montgomery, who lives near a railroad track, said at the Wednesday meeting. She said pollution and train congestion are significant concerns.
"It's a dangerous mess," Montgomery said.
Locomotive engineer John Lawson of Kennewick spoke in favor of coal exports in Vancouver.
"My biggest concern has been the impact on the economy," he said, adding such projects "provide a tax boost to our state" to pay for services.